This upcoming season will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1998/99 season for Manchester United, the best and most successful year of the club’s history.
Now we know that the noisy neighbours on the other side of the city have completed the Treble as well, but I would still maintain our is better, of course all City fans will maintain theirs is too but that’s life as a football fan.
In that year United signed three players: Jaap Stam signed from PSV Eindhoven and Jesper Blomqvist signed from Parma. United were linked with many strikers, in particular Patrick Kluivert, over the summer but opted to sign Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa for £12.6m.
United already boasted an embarrassment of riches up front with Yorke joining Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunner Solskjaer. But if United had all this firepower, why did they feel the need to add to it?
Well Sir Alex Ferguson said of Yorke: “I needed a different type of player who could do different things, I felt I needed a player who could beat men with good balance. He’s two footed, good balance, quickness, he’s brave, good headerer of a ball, he’s got everything, I think what he needed was a platform”
A platform is what he got all right, it did not take him long to open his account, a home game against Charlton saw him score a brace on his home debut. He started very well in United colours, scoring goals and linking up well with his teammates.
His first European goal came in Munich against Bayern Munich, he also grabbed an assist for Paul Scholes in a 2-2 draw. United picked momentum in October and Yorke soon started to be amongst the goals but his blossoming relationship with Andy Cole was starting to bear fruit on the pitch.
The 25th of November 1998 was the day a partnership which looked promising become one of Europe’s most dangerous striking partnerships. United were away to Barcelona in the Champions League and it was a night for this team to come of age and Yorke to announce himself to Europe.
Sonny Anderson had put the home side ahead within a minute, but Yorke would score with United’s first shot on the Barcelona goal. The second goal of this game is one I remember watching and being absolutely stunned by a pass from Roy Keane intended for Yorke was dummied by him to Cole behind him.
Cole played it back to Yorke who played it back to Cole for him to slot in for United’s second goal, Clive Tyldesley described the combination between the pair as “Out of the world.” Yorke scored again to put United 3-2, but Rivaldo equalised for another 3-3 draw to match the one at Old Trafford in September.
This game was a statement for Yorke but also United too, they had often blundered in Europe and not achieved anywhere near the dominating League form. However, this performance proved they could go toe to toe with the best and Yorke emerged as a key player on the platform United gave him.
Yorke went on a little drought after this but after the New Year he picked up where he left off in Barcelona, a goal against West Ham was followed by his first United hat-trick at Filbert Street against Leicester.
An equaliser in a FA Cup game against Liverpool which United would go on to win endeared him even more so to fans, but in fact his next goal in the league is one of his most crucial. 0-0 away to Charlton in a midweek game and it looks like dropped points for United until Yorke rises to head in a last-minute winner which would be crucial further down the line.
His next big moment came in early March, a Champions League quarter-final against Inter Milan where Yorke again proved that this was the stage for him. Two headers from David Beckham crosses put United firmly in the driving seat for the return leg in Milan.
After a drab 0-0 Fa Cup game against Chelsea, the return leg a few days later provided Yorke with another double, the first being a poacher’s finish in the box but his second was top class. Running on to a ball just outside of the Chelsea box, he opts to hit it first time with the outside of his right foot to lob it over the goalkeeper. A goal to prove that this man could do the lot, that goal sent United to the Semi Finals and an unforgettable clash with Arsenal in the replay that maybe one of the greatest games played in England.
A week after United’s extra time win over Arsenal in that FA Cup semifinal replay was the most daunting fixture in European football at that time in Juventus Away. Juventus were the king makers in the Champions League in the mid to late 90’s, beat them and you would win the Champions League.
The tie was finally balanced at 1-1 from the previous game, but two quick-fire goals from Filippo Inzaghi in the first 11 minutes gave United a mountain to climb. The task seemed impossible until Roy Keane pulled them back into it with a Captain’s goal from a corner, then another header in a big game from Yorke levelled the game at 2-2 but gave United the advantage on the Away Goals rule.
After a long ball up field by Peter Schmeichel it fell to Yorke who went between two Juventus defenders then around the goalkeeper only to be brought down but his best friend and strike partner Andy Cole was there to finish it off and United were on the way to Barcelona and the Champions League final.
Yorke then scored a goal at the Kop at Anfield in a feisty 2-2 draw which kept United in the hunt for the title, a winner at Middlesborough from yet another header pushed the title towards the final game of the season.
United won 2-1 at home to Spurs to win the League, then beat Newcastle 2-0 to win the FA Cup and of course came from behind again to beat Bayern Munich 2-1 to win the Champions League.
A dramatic end to a dramatic season for United who achieved everything they could ask for; Yorke had been a key component in this side, but he had a request to make to the manager. He wanted a year off to recharge his batteries with full pay, I dread to think of the manager’s reaction when he asked for that.
A big money move leads to big expectations but for United after the 98-99 season it was worth it and then some, He scored 29 goals in all competitions, 11 in Europe was the sign that he was on the big stage and took his chance.